Smithers, release the trolls

With reference to the Reddit/Atheism femsplosion. (Though truth be told, I’m beginning to suspect Rebedda Watson is a professional troll).

Sorry ladies but your internet problems aren’t special.

The internet is often a foul, horrible, disgusting dose of pure, unalloyed, Freudian id (which is part of what makes it so fascinating). It’s a constant confirmation of Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad theory (Anonymity + Audience = Shitcock) but this obnoxious, nasty, horrific behaviour is both a great strength of the internet and is applied to everyone.

Whatever it is you regard as BAAAWWWW worthy, the trolls will find and will go after you with. If you’re a girl who reacts like to inappropriate comments in the way an Ayatollah might react to the Playboy Mansion they’re going to find that button and push it hard.

Yes that’s terrible, yes that’s awful, no, it’s not unique.

If you’re gay (or even a ‘breeder’ in some quarters) it’ll be that. If you have long hair or a buzzcut. If you’re in the military, or not. If you’re liberal, or conservative. Whatever you are, whatever you do, someone will find a way to get on at you for that. If you’re male or white you’ll get shit on just the same as if you’re black or yellow or brown or whatever else.

Everybody is fair game to internet trolls, no exceptions. It’s like Rule 34 for abuse. Most of them are just looking to shock, to get a rise and by far the best thing you can generally do is to ignore the fuckers.

An anecdote isn’t worth anything statistically, but for what it’s worth I have had plenty of death threats, attempted boycotts, people trying to interfere with my workplace or get me fired, stalking behaviour, DOS, hacking, inappropriate comments, barrages of look-alike porn, horrific spamming containing pictures of animal abuse and many others sorts of horrible online abuse.

This… bullshit that goes on is not special or unique to women, racial minorities, sexual proclivities or anything else.

It happens to everyone.

To be absolutely clear to people who love to push my particular button of taking anything I say the wrong way (or not reading it at all), I’m not saying this is a good thing or even an acceptable thing. I’m just saying its not a feminist/racist/etc issue, rather it’s an INTERNET issue.

I don’t know what the solution is but dividing the community into subsets and feeding the trolls with delicious, delicious fem-rage certainly isn’t it.

You can always block/ban/report but the problem with that is that people often silence meaningful dissent and valid alternate points of view by these methods, creating ‘echo chambers’ that only reinforce their own beliefs and that leads to extremism.*

I don’t know if there even is a solution that can, at the same time, preserve the eminently valuable nature of the internet as an anonymised and distanced communication medium. One need only examine the problems G+ has had with the Nymwars to see just how much people value their online identities and anonymity.

http://www.yalelawjournal.org/the-yale-law-journal/content-pages/deliberative-trouble?-why-groups-go-to-extremes/
http://fathom.lib.uchicago.edu/1/777777122307/
http://bostonreview.net/BR26.3/sunstein.php

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Things Christians Should Consider When Trying to Make Debate Rules

I was recently referenced to THIS. Some of which makes some sense, much of which doesn’t. Let’s take a look at these points one by one and show where the issues lie:

1. Understand What you Attack

Generally speaking we do. Indeed many atheists become atheists precisely because they come to understand Christianity (or other religions) and hence their shortcomings. In general I find atheists have a much better and complete understanding of religion than those who support it. This sounds surprising, but if you think about it for a little bit, it really isn’t.

2. Learn Biblical Theology

Given that there’s so many different and contradicting theologies, this is an impossible ask.

3. Learn From Correction

Again, given that each sect, even each believer, seems to not agree on what they believe or how to interpret, this is impossible. It’s also somewhat hypocritical to ask.

4. Don’t be Stupid

Oh, the irony.

5. Don’t Use Incendiary Statements

What constitutes an incendiary statement is very different from person to person. Often simple facts are taken as incendiary by people as an excuse to flee an argument.

6. Don’t Use Emotionally Loaded Terminology

The examples given here include ‘Christian mythology’, which is obviously only a loaded term if you’re irrationally biased and wedded to the mythology in the first place. Again, what it taken as ‘loaded’ will vary from person to person.

7. Be Respectful of What We Believe

I thought lying was a sin in your theology? We don’t respect what you believe. Respect has to be earned. We respect YOU enough to argue it.

8. Use Logic and Evidence

Oh, the irony.

9. Read Biblical Passages in Context

Which is, of course, code for “Interpret them the same way I do”. This has the same problems as mentioned before, nobody does that the same way.

10. Don’t Cut and Paste from Anti-Christian Websites

This gets about as much ground as ‘Don’t post Bible passages’ would. It’s often a lot easier and quicker to give references in an argument. It’s useful.

The Jesus Myth

It’s Xmas and, quite beside all the other issues related to the holiday there’s a much more fundamental one that most take for granted.

Did Jesus even exist?

Even atheists take it for granted that Jesus was an historical figure, they just think he wasn’t magic. This is a bit of a mistake though as, as it turns out, there is no evidence – whatsoever – that he was ever a real person.

That sounds like a grandiose claim, even though it isn’t, simply because we take it so for granted. We’re not the only ones either. As is often claimed by apologists ‘Most scholars agree Jesus was a real person’. Indeed, but without the evidence and reasoning behind that, this is just an argument from authority or popularity. So, what you need is evidence.

So. That given. What would be evidence for the existence of an historical Jesus? Any such evidence would need to be:

  1. Contemporaneous: From the period alleged to be the lifetime of Jesus (7BCE to 36CE).
  2. Non-Christian: Christian claims are the ones you’re trying to confirm.
  3. Multiple: Multiple sources inter-correlate and back each other up.

So, let’s look at the various items that are usually claimed as evidence for Jesus and show why they’re not:

The Bible

You can’t use a claim to prove itself. The Bible is the source of the claims about god, Jesus etc and so is biased. You can’t believe it any more than you could L Ron Hubbard’s claims. You need unbiased sources or, even better, sources biased against Christianity. That way anything they do admit is likely to be at least a little true.

Even if this wasn’t a problem, the earliest gospel – Mark – dates from 70CE at the absolute very earliest and is not even a contemporaneous source. None of the gospels were written by the supposed disciples, many of whom probably didn’t exist. Modern Christianity is the result of the actions of Paul (Saul of Tarsus), someone who never met Jesus and the first unquestionably historical character associated with it.

Josephus

Josephus wasn’t even born until 37CE, at least one year after the supposed lifetime of Jesus and so is non-contemporaneous. Even if that wasn’t an issue there are further issues. The mentions of Jesus aren’t consistent across the lineages of copies of Josephus’ works. Josephus’ works have been heavily interpolated (interfered with) by Eusebius and so, even if we didn’t have all these other issues, it couldn’t be trusted as a source.

Lucian

Non-contemporaneous (Born 125CE) Lucian is also eliminated as any form of confirmation for the existence of Jesus. Even without that, Lucian was a satirist and taking the piss out of what Christians believe, not confirming it as true. South Park’s episode on Scientology makes fun of it, but doesn’t mean it’s true. Same thing.

Mara Bar-Serapion

Non-contemporaneous, again, 73CE at the very earliest. There’s also the problem that Mara writes about other figures, gods, disasters in the same breath. Things that didn’t happen, mythologies that Christians would reject. It’s not even certain (Jesus isn’t mentioned by name) that he was talking about Jesus.

Pliny the Younger

Non-contemporaneous, again, 62CE. Also talks about what Christians believe, not what’s true. Now, if Pliny the ELDER mentioned Jesus, people might be on to something as he was around in the right period and place. Jesus is conspicuously absent from the writings of Pliny the Elder however.

Suetonius

Non-contemporaneous, yet again (seriously, try harder and learn some basic historical methodology apologists). Also mentions the title ‘Christ’ (Chrestos) which was not exclusively Christian at the time. Doesn’t directly mention Jesus at all.

Tacitus

Non-contemporaneous, yet again (56CE). Tacitus’ Jesus references are, again, only found in one lineage of copies which are almost certainly interpolated. Assertions made within those passages are, furthermore, contradicted by other lineages of documentation with better confirmation. Again, also, it only talks about what Christians believed, not what was true.

The Talmud

Specifically the Babylonian Talmud. Non-contemporaneous – yet again – by as much as three centuries. It does mention a Yeshua. It mentions about a dozen Yeshuas one of which Christians like to interpret to mean Jesus, even though the story attached is nothing like the Jesus story.

Thallus

Again, non-contemporaneous (writing long after the alleged lifetime of Jesus) and what’s more doesn’t actually mention Jesus at all, so why he’s brought up I’m not quite sure. Rather Thallus is usually brought up to try and substantiate some of the supernatural claims. Thallus does talk about an eclipse (a natural event) but gets the date of it wrong compared to other historians of the time. We know, through astronomy, when these take place and Thallus doesn’t match up.

That about covers it.

As we can see, there’s nothing that constitutes evidence for the existence of Jesus as a real person, supernatural or otherwise. Given that, we are forced to hold the negative position under the Burden of Proof.

Enjoy the holiday, but remember, it’s just a myth.

If you want a longer-winded version with more references, rather than this overview, this is a good one

Also, if you have time, watch this:

(Not) A Christian Nation

We’re all used to that rhetoric being bandied about by the Christian right of the USA but we’re far less used to hearing it said here in the UK. In the US, which is legally a secular nation but which does have a dominant and vocal Christian culture they have a point IF, by nation, you mean the corpus of its people and not the actual political entity.

Here in the UK things are, somewhat amusingly, reversed. Officially the UK is a Christian nation, our head of state (The Queen) is also he head of the Church, at least on paper, in actuality both Church and Monarchy aren’t particularly relevant. We’re blessed (hah) that religion plays little to no role in our politics day to day, though occasionally it tries to sneak in.

Usually that’s on the part of the Conservatives, though Blair’s Catholicism was an open secret. We’ve seen it recently in attempts to change abortion processes. Now we see it in David Cameron talking about Britain’s ‘Christian values’, seemingly without any sense of irony whatsoever.

Yes, Britain has, in the past, operated under Christian values and what have we had because of it? Sectarian terrorism and war, the dark ages, child abuse, subverted schools, slavery, dominionism, imperialism, divine right of kings, witch-hunting, anti-semitism and so on and so forth. Christian values, religious values, have not helped this country they have made things worse and continue to do so with every concession we give to cults, sects and religions in public.

The advances we have made have been the result of humanist, enlightenment values. Not religion. Religion has had to revise its values to match those of a more progressive populace, not the other way around. It’s high time we acknowledged this and began to step past religion. Cameron wants us to go backwards, to a worse time, probably trying to excuse his failed ‘Big society’ idea and to pre-emptively defend the crop of awful faith schools that will soon be appearing.

Less than half of the UK population is actively religious, most are probably ‘cultural Christians’ as that’s how they identify themselves but few read the Bible or go to church save, perhaps, for Christmas services, marriages, funerals and Christenings.

Ridiculous, uninformed flailing from a man who doesn’t display even his own twisted perception of ‘Christian values’. Just another bankster.

Off Without a Hitch

Christopher Hitchens finally succumbed to his cancer and it’s a great pity that we were robbed of another 20+ years of his acerbic wit and devastating sarcasm. Hitchens was a great and fearless proponent of atheism and anyone who finds Dawkins abraisive, one usually discovers, doesn’t know of Hitchens.

Hawkish and somewhat right wing for my taste I always felt that, at least, Hitchens had a sound basis for his positions. Even though we disagreed often it was more about the ‘how’ than the ‘what’ and the ‘why’.

Hitchens maintained a very low tolerance for bullshit throughout his life, something we can all learn from. Tolerance is not a virtue if it simply allows crazy nonsense to spread unchallenged and unimpeded. We should not be afraid to offend in the process of pointing out the Emperor’s nakedness.

I hope I face my own, inevitable, end with as much courage and frankness as Hitchens maintained in pumping out his articles and polemics right up until the end. If nothing else, he has served the cause proud simply by putting to bed the idea that anyone, everyone, undergoes a deathbed conversion.

I don’t drink much, but I’m going to raise a glass to Hitch’s memory and do my best to be as bullshit-intolerant as he was.

Bad Reasons to Believe in God: The Invisibility of Air

Yes, this one still comes up from time to time in one form or another. Somehow, some people seem to think this argument still has the ability to sway opinion even though it’s both incorrect and fallacious. The argument usually runs something like this…

Air is invisible, but it exists even though you can’t see it. God is also invisible and you can’t see him but you should believe he exists, because you believe in air.

Balderdash, nonsense and piffle.

You CAN see air. You can see it in its effects – swaying trees, heat haze etc. You can see it through thermographic imaging as it flows. You can freeze it to a liquid or a solid (oxygen, nitrogen, CO2) and then you can see it. You can feel it, weigh it, confirm its existence by experimentation. You can even see it due to the diffraction of sunlight through nitrogen molecules – blue skies.

We don’t even need to get that far to show that this is a bloody stupid way to think though as it could be used to argue for anything, including things we’re just making up on the spot.

The Invisible Pink Unicorn is also invisible and you can’t see her but you should believe she exists, because you believe in air.

Substitute your own invisible ‘X’ for the unicorn as you wish and the problem with the argument holds true.

Apples are green. Orcs are also green. You should believe in orcs because you believe in apples.

This also amounts to the same thing.

There is no evidence for god, no reason to believe in it any more than there is orcs. Grow up.

Bad Reasons to Believe in God: I was told to!

A great deal of effort is put into ‘teaching’ – some would say brainwashing – kids into a particular religion. Personally I find this as obnoxious and disgusting as I would the forcible indoctrination of children into the Ku Klux Klan and potentially even more damaging in the long term.

Whether it’s ‘This is how I was brought up’ or ‘William Lane Craig says so’, the argument is basically the same. Someone that you, perhaps ill-advisedly, trust has told you X, therefore you believe it and them.

This is a fallacy known as the ‘Argument from Authority’ and it’s fallacious because simply because someone is in a position of authority or is right about something else, doesn’t mean that they’re right about this.

Theists occasionally like to turn this around and say ‘Well, you haven’t done all these scientific experiments yourself, you’re just trusting the scientists’.

Science constantly tries to disprove itself, it is subject to peer review and repeat experimentation. Over the last few centuries it has established a great track record of useful discoveries and of weeding out issues and falsehoods. The exact opposite of what’s happened with religious claims. Additionally, science rests on evidence, not the authority of the person presenting it and – perhaps most importantly – science has practical applications, which wouldn’t work if the theories were wrong.